CHICAGO — Just as President Barack Obama was about to address the International Association of Chiefs of Police at the McCormack Center Tuesday afternoon, longtime civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a total shakeup of the Chicago Police Department.
"They need policy and cultural changes, and they need a change in leadership top-to-bottom," Jackson told DNAinfo Tuesday. "We need this police department to be reviewed by the federal government, if it's going to have any credibility at all."
Specifically, Jackson was addressing a study highlighted in the New York Times concluding that police in Chicago are 5.2 times more likely to search cars belonging to African Americans than whites, despite the fact that black drivers are less likely to be carrying illegal contraband. Of 14 police departments examined by the study across four states, Chicago's had the widest disparity.
"Unfortunately these numbers aren't surprising to me — it validates the kind of anecdotal information we've been hearing for years," said Jackson, the founder of the Kenwood-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. "But the fact is, when we offer that kind of anecdotal information, it's often just dismissed as 'whining.'"
The study was quickly followed by another, which found that even being a pedestrian is considerably more dangerous for African Americans.
In a city desperate to suppress its surging murder rate, Jackson pointed to police bias as a key part of the underlying problem.
"When you have profiling along with the fact that we [African Americans] as a group see the most murders but the least amount of murders solved, it creates a lot of distrust and resentment," Jackson said. "It's gotten so people are afraid to call the police — they're afraid to turn other people in or expose wrongdoing."
Though Jackson stopped short of joining the City Council's Black Caucus to call for the ouster of Police Supt. Garry McCarty, the reverend said sweeping changes will have to set in before the city sees any real progress.
"The data shows our police are racially biased, and that affects everyone — it affects jobs and affects people's sense of security," he said. "We need new faces in high places that can deter this kind of behavior, so that we can have equal protection under the law."
A Chicago Police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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